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Les ?crits de Fernand Braudel and Les m?moires de la M?diterran?e: pr?histoire et antiquit

Author(s):Braudel, Fernand
Reviewer(s):Lai, Cheng-chung

Published by EH.NET (August 2000)

Fernand Braudel, Les ?crits de Fernand Braudel. Paris: Editions de

Fallois. Volume I, Autour de la M?diterran?e, 1996. 535 pp. 150 French

francs, ISBN: 2-87706-259-7. Volume II Les ambitions de l’histoire,

1997. vi +529 pp. 150 French francs, ISBN: 2-87706-290-2.

Fernand Braudel, Les m?moires de la M?diterran?e: pr?histoire et

antiquit?. Paris: Editions de Fallois, 1998. 399 pp. 150 French francs,

ISBN: 2-87706-304-6.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Cheng-chung Lai, Department of Economics, National Tsing

Hua University, Sinchu 30013, Taiwan.

Braudel’s Memories of the Mediterranean

Fernand Braudel’s miscellaneous writings were published by ?ditions de Fallois

in four volumes between 1996 and 2000. The first three volumes have their

respective subtitles under a common title Les ?crits de Fernand Braudel,

the fourth volume is an independent monograph on the ancient history of the

Mediterranean. Volumes II and III of Les ?crits contain Braudel’s

various essays that are, in my opinion, of secondary importance, on which I

have no particular points to offer. On the other hand, there is a common

subject between the first and the fourth volume that may be of interest to

Braudel readers, economic historians and scholars of the Mediterranean.

Braudel’s La M?diterran?e et le monde m?diterran?en ? l’?poque de Philippe

II (1949) is a masterpiece that is still in print half a century later.

There is another less well-known book on the Mediterranean that he edited La

M?diterran?e, l’espace et l’histoire (volume 1); La M?diterran?e, les

hommes et h?ritage (volume 2) (Paris: Arts et M?tiers Graphiques, 1977;

reprinted by the Edition Flammarion, 1985-6 in the Collection Champs Nos. 156,

167). There are twelve articles in this handsomely illustrated two-volume set

(often used as Christmas gift), in which Braudel contributed five: “La terre”,

“La mer”, “L’aube”, “L’histoire” and “Venise”.

Yet, Braudel had some other writings (about 850 pages) on the Mediterranean, a

major part of which is unfamiliar to many specialists of the Mediterranean

studies and unknown to most Braudel readers. They were published more than ten

years after his death in December 1985. We shall begin with Autour de la

M?diterran?e of 1996.

Autour was edited by Roselyne Ayala and Madame Paule Braudel, with a

Preface by Maurice Aymard, and a detailed index (pp. 511-32). This volume

collected writings of Braudel on the Mediterranean, including his early project

proposal, unpublished manuscripts, published texts and many reviews. It

contains three parts: North Africa (4 chapters), the Spanish Empire (4

chapters), Italy and the Mediterranean (6 chapters).

Among the abundant text, “Charles Quint” (pp. 171-212), which had already

appeared in his ?crits sur l’histoire II (1990), should not be reprinted

here. Another article, “Philippe II” (pp. 213-57), also appeared in ?crits

II, but it was retranslated from the Italian version, the original French

text is included here for the first time. For Braudel readers, neither of these

add any new information, except for being the “original version”.

The first two chapters of this volume attract me particularly. The very first

one entitled “The Early Researches” (pp. 15-28) has an old story. In 1927,

Braudel (aged 25) proposed doctoral dissertation subject to the Sorbonne,

entitled “Philippe II, Spain and the Mediterranean.” At the same time he used

this proposal to apply for a research scholarship from the Bourse Jules Ferry,

which he obtained in 1928. On March 29, 1929, he reported to the Bourse

explaining his work in progress and what he was going to do that summer. This

report could be found in the Archives municipales de Saint-Di? and had never

been published before. It reveals significant information about the young

Braudel: his eagerness, his ambitions, his methodology, his initial ideas about

the Mediterranean, and we can see that the initial project diverged

considerably from the finished book that was published in 1949.

A few things stand out. There is no room for diplomatic history, showing that

Braudel was already taking a different path. Surprisingly, he was very

interested in the religious life in Spain (p. 16). The great varieties of

documentation that he consulted also manifest his unique ways of selecting

information from the sea of archives in various Spanish cities (as listed on p.

16). He complained about the chaotic arrangement of files in the archives, he

would have been greatly relived had there been a photocopier, but he was wise

enough to use a movie camera to film the files and project them on the wall to

retrieve the information he needed. The zeal for the project that Braudel

showed in this report is evident, for instance, from the Naples papers alone,

he took 800 pages of notes. In the concluding paragraph, Braudel stated that in

early 1928 he had explained to his thesis supervisor Prof. Pag?s about the

progress of his project, some of his preliminary findings, and the questions to

be studied; he would be glad to mail the same document to the Bourse. If I were

to review the project, I would have endorsed it enthusiastically.

The second essay entitled “The Spanish and the North Africa, 1492-1577,” was

published in the Revue africaine in 1928 (Nos. 2-3, pp. 184-233 and

351-428). Henri Hauser (then professor of economic history at the Sorbonne)

wrote a comment on this long essay in Revue historique (1930): “for the

historians of the sixteenth century, this excellent study, with solid

documentation, has a rare value of critique and is remarkably suggestive.” This

long essay served as the “secondary thesis” (a kind of supplementary work to

show that the doctorate candidate’s view is not too narrow) when Braudel

presented his thesis in 1947. To his honor, it was Maurice Bataillon, then

professor at the Coll?ge de France who examined this secondary thesis (see

editor’s note on p. 31).

What strikes me in this 1928 essay (Braudel was aged 26) is that, although the

topic is quite general in nature and very broad in scope, it is easy to see

that Braudel was quite mature in writing this kind of traditional history. He

was able to present an overall structure of the topic and showed the masteries

of the rich documents that he consulted. What is even more attractive is his

talent to depict the historical scene with big and powerful brushes, the key

issues were organized systematically and the overall flow of the essay was

conquering. In short, in this essay Braudel clearly manifested a kind of

sophistication in the writing of traditional history, he would have been bored

had he remained any longer in this old camp. It is therefore unsurprising that

he soon switched to the new history camp, known as the Annales school,

advocated by Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch in the early 1930s.

These two 1928 writings are particularly interesting because they allow us to

see how the young Braudel was shining. But they also serve as bad mirrors

reflecting that, except for the ingenious The Mediterranean (1949),

Braudel’s work on the Mediterranean in his more mature stage was not any more

brilliant than those written when he was a high school teacher in Algeria

before 1932.


Les m?moires de la M?diterran?e: pr?histoire et antiquit? (1998) was

edited by Roselyne Ayala and Paule Braudel, with a Preface by Jean Guilaine (a

professor at the Coll?ge de France) and Pierre Rouillard (a director of

research au C.N.R.S.). The book contains eight chapters, divided into two

parts, with 42 color plates and 15 maps (pp. 352-70); the index of names and

places is well prepared (pp. 371-93). As the book is printed directly from

Braudel’s manuscripts, the editors should be acknowledged for the many

editorial footnotes, which provide updated information and corrections on

Braudel’s inexact knowledge of archeological matters.

Why did Braudel write this volume and why was it published posthumously? The

publisher’s Foreword tells us that in early 1968 the famous publisher Albert

Skira in Geneva planned a series of illustrated books on the Mediterranean,

from its antiquity to the seventeenth century. Skira asked Braudel to do the

first volume for the series. Braudel complied and wrote it with great pleasure.

He soon completed the task (no more than eighteen months), as we can see from

his Acknowledgements (in four brief paragraphs) dated July 28, 1969. But

Skira’s health was declining in 1970 and he passed away three years later. Some

hesitations arose about the whole project when considering the high printing

costs, so the publisher finally aborted the plan. Braudel was then quite

involved in the writing of the second volume of Capitalism, it would

have cost him a lot of energy to do supplementary work in preparing maps and

illustrative materials on that Mediterranean book. He put the typescript aside

and forgot all about it.

But Madame Braudel and some other people did remember this almost completed

book. It would have been difficult to publish the manuscript as such because

many archeological discoveries and new techniques had rewritten the prehistory

of the sea since the 1970s. The solution was simple but arduous: publish the

manuscript as such, but seek clarification from specialists for ambiguities,

update the related literature, and offering supplementary evidence in the form

of footnotes. Readers are therefore reading Braudel’s original writings along

with new evidence provided by modern specialists.

How could Braudel complete 350 pages of writing so quickly? As we do not see a

long list of archives or references that he consulted, one wonders if this is

an original profound research or if this is a work of synthesis based on

unidentified secondary literature. In his Acknowledgments, Braudel stated that

“my own real researches covered only the 1450-1650 period. ? The present

volume, designated for the general public, allows me to undertake a fantastic

voyage to travel into the very longue dur?e. I seized the occasion”.

So, should we read it as a masterpiece or as a synthesis of the

state-of-the-field (1960s) by a great Mediterranean historian named Braudel?

One realizes that what is interesting in this volume would be Braudel’s views

of the topic, his ways of selecting the materials, but not his opinions as an

expert so far as the archeological aspect is concerned. His ambition was to

describe a pre-fifteenth century history of the Mediterranean such that it can

be connected to his already famous book covering the 1450-1650 period.

The table of contents reveals another message. In the eight chapters that were

divided into two parts we see again Braudel’s famous tri-partition of

historical time (the longue dur?e, conjoncture and event). One may think that

in this book that covers so many centuries, perhaps only the longue dur?e is

the appropriate notion. This is the case for the first five chapters (Part I),

in which the sea, the island, the catastrophes, in short the geography has the

central role. Most Braudel readers are familiar with this in all his books, so

we shall not be surprised to see that the second notion “conjoncture” plays a

central role in Part II. For instance, the section in entitled “Face aux

conjonctures” (pp. 223-25) begins with the statement: “Living in the

Mediterranean, the Carthaginians were necessarily sensible to the overall

movement of the sea, to its conjoncture. The history of the city follows step

by step the rhythms of the Mediterranean life.” By “conjoncture,” Braudel meant

the political, religious and economic crises of the era.

Is there room for the history of events, Braudel’s third notion of historical

time? Yes, Section II of Chapter 7 entitled “Error of Alexander the Great” (pp.

277-83) is an example. But Braudel was alert enough not to have a Part III for

the history of events alone, he combined the history of conjoncture and events

in Part II. How about Braudel’s other important notion, the “economic world”?

He had not forgotten it, as can be seen from Map 15 “L’Empire Romain sous

Septime S?v?re (193-211)” and the related pages (mainly in Chapter 8). If I

were shown this table of contents without knowing who was the author, I would

guess that it was by Braudel or by his imitators. The same framework of The

Mediterranean (1949) was simply applied to an earlier period.

As a general reader, I find the book intriguing, the scale and scope are broad,

and the story is attractively told; it expands my knowledge about the

Mediterranean. Although I have, as most general readers, no sufficient

background knowledge to judge the contents, I do have some feelings about the

book. The writing style is basically synthetic, there is no central argument to

be defended and no new concept is offered. Under the same Braudellien brushes,

I find the ancient history of the Mediterranean much less interesting than that

of the Philip II period.

Experts may have other complaints: the nature of the topic is not Braudel’s

specialty, little archeological insight is added, and no new historical

proposition is offered. Perhaps it is in this sense that Braudel was not

totally wrong to abandon the typescript. For him and the general readers, this

is merely a “popular” book, it should not be a representative volume among his

lifework; for specialists, it was wise for Braudel not to publish what he did

not really know about the pre-fifteenth century Mediterranean.

Cheng-chung Lai’s recent publications include “Braudel’s Key Concepts and

Methodology Reconsidered,” The European Legacy, 2000, 5(1): 65-86. He is editor

of Adam Smith Across Nations: Translations and Receptions of The Wealth of

Nations, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Subject(s):Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative